In the famous words of Michael Scott, “Let’s get ethical!”
The textbook definition of Ethics is defined as moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains: “The field of ethics, also called moral philosophy, involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior.”
What both of these definitions have in common is the elements of requiring some form of systematic analysis, distinguishing right from wrong, and determining the nature of what should be valued.
In public relations, honesty, openness, loyalty, respect, integrity, fairness, and forthright communication are all ethical values. The current state of ethics in public relations practice depends heavily on codes of ethics held by the major professional associations such as Public Relations Society of America. PRSA members agree to abide by a code of ethics that is written for the entire group. Most of the professional associations in public relations have a code of ethics.
Unfortunately, membership in these groups is voluntary, meaning that one is not required to belong to such an association in order to practice public relations. This is where public relations professionals can get a bad wrap for being “spin doctors” or twisting the truth.
Personally, I believe that to be a successful PR professional, your personal ethical standing and moral beliefs need to line up with the organization or company you are working for. I know that I would not be successful in my profession if I didn’t agree with what my company represented. I think that if every public relations professional stood by this belief, the PR profession would get a lot less slack because there wouldn’t be so many misunderstandings.